In this age of webinars and online events, it can be easy to forget that there are still a lot of in-person events that may require to check-in attendees, events like conferences, trade shows, galas, annual meetings and press conferences. Organizations remember to provide VIP guests with special care and handling but sometimes overlook the fact that media attendees also need special care when being checked in to an event.
Based on more than two decades of working with reporters at press conferences, trade shows and other events, here are some best practices on how to handle media.
1. Make sure the media qualifications/credentialing process is up-to-date. Ten years ago, to be considered a member of the media, one had to be either a staff reporter or editor or a freelance writer with a number of recent clips. These days, bloggers, podcasters and others are now considered media – and turning such people away could cause more problems via negative blog posts, tweets, etc.
2. Maintain a separate, up-to-date media database. To be effective, media relations teams must research and maintain a database of their key reporters. Because reporters move around so often these days, media databases are valuable only if they are kept up-to-date. Often times, when reporters show up to register to attend a conference or event, they often provide updated information that is important to capture.
3. Make it easy for reporters to register and check in. Consider offering online registration to speed onsite registration, and make sure to have pre-printed press badges, blank extras on hand for last-minute walk-ins, along with extra press kits (whether electronic, on flash drives or paper). Also consider having a separate registration area, with clear signage, and trained personnel to check reporters in – particularly reporters who, at the last minute, have decided to attend an event, which means their names may not be in the media database. Having a separate registration station means that reporters won’t get in the way of other VIP attendees such as speakers, sponsors and benefactors, board members, etc.
4. Make it easy to capture walk-in reporters’ contact info. If reporters walk up to the same registration tables as the general public, their information may not get forwarded to the correct people. If a walk-in reporter’s information goes to a general volunteer, it may get lost, making it difficult to track media attendees and to follow-up with them afterwards. It is vital that media contact info gets forwarded to the media list for future events; instead, if contact info gets included in non-media databases, it will be impossible to find that data and to use it to the organization's advantage in the future.
5. Train key staffers on how to work with reporters. Untrained volunteers can actually damage relationships that an organization needs to maintain with reporters. For example, a couple of years ago, at a nonprofit's big event, a well meaning volunteer turned away a wire service reporter, who walked walked away in a huff, and never wrote about the organization. On the other hand, trained volunteers and staffers would know how and be empowered to handle reporters, especially walk-ins, who otherwise might be turned away. Reporters are looking for a quick, efficient way to check in; they want to work with people who know how to work with them. Organizations can easily get a reputation for being unprofessional and hard to work with, and it’s important to take the steps to prevent your organization from being seen in that light.
6. Identify locations, times, etc. that may offer better photo and story opportunities. Reporters often rely on the people registering to help them get a sense of where they can find good visuals, good stories, etc. Make sure the content you've developed is shareable by social media, which includes using a hashtag for your event.Typically, general volunteers are focused on separate issues, and end up being a hindrance to reporters, which again could damage a relationship. Those trained in how to deal with the media, on the other hand, can enhance the trust necessary for strong relationships with reporters.
7. Make sure to follow-up appropriately. While reporters usually don’t like “follow-up calls,” it’s different if you are able to offer photos, video, audio or other content, including interviews with people they weren't able to get. These calls are part of the process of helping reporters so consider asking their feedback in terms of what could be improved to help the media cover similar events in the future. For example, years ago, after a reporter complained about the sound quality at the back of the room where the TV cameras were positioned, I’ve always made sure to have technology in place that can enhance the audio feed.
Checking in reporters professionally and efficiently with the help of people trained and equipped to work with media can make a big difference in the relationship that organizations can build and maintain with those reporters.
Let me know if you have other tips.